When the lights go down and the audience goes quiet, a new universe comes into being.
Mr. Rogers had it right, when he invited his young viewers to travel with him to the Land of Make-Believe. But at the time, I had no idea that the Land of Make-Believe had so many different faces and places to visit. Each time we put on a play, we find a new place to go to, a new vista to show to the audience.
On the stage as the production is going on, it's a land of light and color, of sounds and shapes that all correspond to things as we see them in the real world, but a little different. Some things are just a bit bigger - so people whom we aren't supposed to believe in, the audience, can see them clearly and know that those things are there. Some things are just pretend.
The entire upstairs of the house where our current production takes place doesn't actually exist. But for two hours each evening, it's believed to be there and no one argues the point. People leave the stage to go upstairs, and they're gone for a while. They must be upstairs; where else would they go?
A wall of nothingness separates us in our world from the world with the audience in it. We don't acknowledge that the wall is there and we don't test it, but we treat it as if it were both completely solid and impenetrable, while also being, somehow, a place upon which to focus our attention when thinking out loud, when declaring for emphasis to no one in general.
And backstage is an entirely different place. Here is the strangest universe of all, where the things that are about to become real onstage wait for their entrance. Backstage they are debris, tools. Food and candles and carrots and walkie-talkies. Onstage, though, they become underlines and bright illuminated arrows and emphasis of the characters that they exist around. The firewood isn't just firewood, it's Betty's firewood. If it weren't for Betty there wouldn't be any need for firewood. The firewood is only there to make Betty more Betty. Nothing else matters.
The Cokes are for me. If I didn't need Cokes there would be no Cokes in this little world. And for that matter, there wouldn't be a bottle opener. As worlds go it's not very impressive, but as worlds go discovering the purpose and interrelations of things is simple and clear.
But what happens to the people of that onstage world when they step offstage? They completely change. In one moment they are loud and active and alive; backstage they are dark and quiet, shifting from place to place in silence as they shift about the building blocks of that bright world, peering dimly through the curtains and cracks at the world as it spins just beyond the veil.
In spite of all the stress and difficulty associated with rehearsing and playing, I love it. Acting is a completely foreign slice of life, frantic energy for a few moments before hundreds of hungry eyes, followed by stealth and sneaking in darkness in preparation for the next burst of light and sound.
It makes me feel like I'm filling up with an electrical charge. The potential builds and strains until the air fairly crackles with it, then...
The last show of this production is Sunday November 6 at 2:00p, at the Norris Community Center in Norris Tennessee. If you're in the area, stop by. Be there when the lightning strikes.